Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hollesley Bay

Hollesley Bay is a Prison Service establishment on the Suffolk coast. I have been there twice, once to visit the Category D men's open prison, and once to see Warren Hill Young Offenders' Institute on the same site. It is a long haul, over 100 miles from London, and stands in a very large estate of (I think ) more than 2000 acres. The locals still call it The Colony, because it was founded in Victorian times to provide training in agriculture for workers from the cities who wanted to go to the Dominions.
A Cat D prison is mostly used to house those coming to the end of very long sentences, and it is prison policy to get as many inmates as possible working outside in the community in 'proper' jobs. This aims to get them back into work, and to help them build up a financial cushion for the day they are released. Some work in local offices and factories, and a few even work as lorry drivers. Because the prison is miles from anywhere some inmates have cars on site that they use to get to work. One of the Governors told us that a number of men had jobs at Felixstowe Docks for some years (employers know exactly who they are employing) but that came to a stop when the unlovely News of The World ran a splash story around a long-lens photo of an inmate driving a fork-lift truck into the Customs shed. The man was a convicted drug smuggler, and despite there being no suggestion of anything untoward going on, the port's management decided to call it a day.
The regime in the prison is relatively relaxed, and the pleasant grounds are dotted with inmates on gardening duties. There is far less emphasis on farm work than there was a generation ago, because modern farming methods require relatively little labour. When I went there we saw the renowned Heavy Horse centre; the prisoners working there showed obvious pride in their work, and the stables, horses and tack were all in first-class order. Unfortunately the accountants had their eye on it, and it was due to be transferred to a private sector Trust. In the same way much of the farmland was due to be sold off as surplus to prison requirements.
Hollesley Bay is a tabloid editor's nightmare, lacking as it does a treadmill and rock-breaking facilities, but it does have an important function in trying to ease long-term prisoners back into society. Of course there are failures, and there is some abuse of the easygoing discipline (especially with alcohol and drugs, I am told) but the underlying aims are laudable.
The Governor who debriefed us told us that he had been responsible for Jeffrey Archer while he was at the Bay. "Quite the most obnoxious prisoner I have ever dealt with" he said "Kept trying to tell me how to do my job". Why does that not surprise me?

The official website is here.

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